Through the Language Glass
By Guy Deutscher
Review by Allyson (Philosophy and Linguistics)
I remember wanting to figure out what Linguistics was, and coming across some random recommendations online. The title intrigued me – how to turn down an Alice in Wonderland reference? – and it wasn’t so long as to be threatening. So I picked it up and I was so glad I did: while still explaining academic topics concerning linguistics, it’s a good introductory read. (And it’s noteworthy to say that I have used even at university!)
It doesn’t require you to be an expert – nothing more than knowing things like what an adjective and a noun are. Deutscher’s prose is quite narrative and easily carries the reader through the argument or topic at hand. His style is very accessible, and while some paragraphs may a bit more academic in tone, overall it’s an entertaining read. This is something I have not found often in introductory books, which tend to contain an overview of the subject and its different branches, maybe exploring some popular theories. While they can be interesting as well, I feel like this one has a more “friendly” approach for beginners.
Moreover, this book is great to gauge your interest in linguistics. At first glance, its scope is quite narrow. It mostly focuses on the relationships between languages and on language complexity, with a particular attention given to colour. However, through this, Deutscher explores different topics inside linguistics, explaining concepts and theories that may not be known to the reader, even if common knowledge in academic environments. The great number of practical and real-life examples made it really easy to follow his line of reasoning – many of them could be situations in which the reader has found himself!
His focus on colour is what made this book so peculiar and interesting to me. It really fascinated me to read about some concepts that we take for granted, like “blue” and “yellow” and seeing how they can be completely different in other languages – or even how they can not exist. In the book we also see how different theories of the linguistic use of colours have succeeded each other, dispelling popular myths one may have about languages, while offering different perspectives.
This book was incredibly helpful to me. Not only did I learn that I actually enjoyed and had fun reading about linguistics, but it was also a good starting point to look into various ideas and concepts that intrigued me. I looked up the end-of-the-book references of passages that interested me the most, Googled lots of things – do not discount the internet, you’ll find so many short academic articles about the topics that interest you – and looked at recommendations on reviews. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who’s even remotely interested in linguistics, it’s a really fast and enjoyable read.
Through the Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages by Guy Deutscher